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20.1.2022 How To… Care For The Older Horse… In 10 Easy Steps: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Keep Those Legs Moving

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

Most older horses will not move further or faster than they need to. Gone are they days when you had to close your eyes every time you turned him out so that you didn’t cringe at his antics. He calmly wanders around the field, munching, taking life at a steady pace. There’s no need to put in more effort than necessary.

The old adage, use it or lose it, is true when it comes to muscle strength and joint range of movement. If we never move a joint through a particular range of movement, then it’s going to become more difficult for the body to perform that movement. For example, if your horse never full bends his knee, it will become more difficult for him over time to bend that knee. This is partly because the muscles creating the movement become weaker, and partly because the joint itself stiffens up.

You can help your horse to maintain a good range of movement through his limbs and his spine. We’ve discussed spinal range of movement in the baited stretches chapter. And we’ve discussed keeping him moving in the exercise chapter. Here I’ll talk about some exercises specifically to help maintain the range of movement through his legs.

One of the most simple exercises you can do in terms of maintaining limb range of movement is to pick your horse’s feet up at least once a day, ideally twice a day. Not only does this mean he has to bend each leg, it also means he has to balance on the opposite leg, which is great for maintaining strength.

Many of you will have, at some point in your horsey time, stretched your horse’s front legs forwards after you girthed him up. This is a great exercise to do at least a couple of times a week, to help keep the freedom of movement through the shoulder. A beneficial and relaxing exercise (for the horse) is to pick up a front foot and place it slightly out to the side, letting him stand with his front feet a bit wider apart than they normally would be. Encourage him to stand like this for up to 3 minutes, to get a good fascial release through the forehand and around the sternum and ribcage. Since the front legs of the horse are held to the body by soft tissue rather than bone, this fascial stretch will help to maintain freedom of movement through the front legs. You can do a similar exercise with the hind legs, which will create a fascial release through the hamstrings and up into the sacroiliac region.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion

January 20, 2022
Sue Palmer